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Listening Post / Brief reviews of select releases

> Classical

Yo-Yo Ma, "The Essential Yo-Yo Ma" (Sony Legacy). Well, not exactly. You can't really discover the reasons why Yo-Yo Ma is the essential cellist of our time on what amounts to a two-disc Whitman's sampler of Yo-Yo's greatest hits -- a Gershwin Prelude here, Rachmaninoff's Vocalise there, with the finale from Dvorak's Cello Concerto topping out as the longest entry at 12 minutes (most morsels are in the two- to five-minute range). It's an iPod mix, suitable, perhaps, for those who need snippets of this and that to know what they might like a whole disc of (two Olympian places to start: his magnificent set of Bach's Six Unaccompanied Cello Suites and his sublime disc of the music of film composer Ennio Morricone). Review: 2 stars (Out of 4) (Jeff Simon)

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Schwantner, Angelfire, September Canticle and other works performed by violinist Anne Akiko Meyers, French hornist Gregory Hustis, organist James Diaz and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra under Andrew Litton (Hyperion). Joseph Schwantner is, at 62, one of the more prominent and awarded of senior composers in America -- a stylistic conservative who wants a symphony orchestra to sound like a symphony orchestra and a soloist with an orchestra to sound like a soloist with an orchestra in a way Samuel Barber (or Brahms) would recognize. The result is contemporary music that has brooding power and dramatic seriousness and even occasional charm but not much in the way of sonic imagination. It's a bit too affecting to be consigned to eternity as "academic" but its claims seem modest. Nor is the performance here of transcendent quality. Review: 2 1/2 stars (J.S.)

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Debussy, "Preludes, Books One and Two" (Onyx). A bit of a milestone. For all his prowess and renown as a pianist of Debussy, Ravel and Satie, Pascal Roge has never before recorded the complete Debussy preludes under one roof. This two-disc set, in fact, marks the beginning of a complete Debussy cycle. He inveighs against the customary orgy of pedaling you hear in Debussy, preferring instead to keep a cool head and let the music achieve its poetry and landscaping by itself, without any excessive help. It's a solid and superb and musicianly approach to Debussy, even if the exact opposite -- treating Debussy as a madman like Scriabin -- is a lot more fun. Review: 3 stars (J.S.)

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Andre Rieu, "The Flying Dutchman" (Denon). This is a great crash-course, literally, in which clangorous war horse is which. That march theme that comes in in the middle of "Supercalifragilisticexpialadocious"? "Entry of the Gladiators." That waltz with the annoying whistles? "Wiener Praterleben." A chorus soars in "Vienna, City of My Dreams." A soprano soars in "The Laughing Song." It's a lusty album, but less Viennese than some of Rieu's other offerings, and more stingy with his violin solos. They court the Irish audience, too, with "The Wild Rover." It's a glorious cymbal-fest, but disappointingly empty-headed. Review: 2 1/2 stars (Mary Kunz Goldman)

> Jazz

Marc Johnson, "Shades of Jade" (ECM). Jazz musicians in our millennium don't get any more compatible than those bassist Marc Johnson has assembled here: Joe Lovano, John Scofield, Eliane Elias and Joey Baron. But then remember that Johnson is the first-rate bassist and band leader who brought Bill Frisell and Pat Metheny together in "The Sound of Summer Running." When you hear the gorgeous, summer-afternoon trance tune that gives the disc its title, you'll know how very much about beauty Johnson learned as the bassist for both Bill Evans and Stan Getz, once upon a time. (Lovano, for one, doesn't sound this good on his own discs.) A gorgeous disc. Review: 4 stars (J.S.)

> Rock

Genesis, "Platinum Collection" (Atlantic/Rhino). Conventional wisdom has it that, after the departure of Peter Gabriel following the completion of the epic "The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway," Genesis ceased mattering as a creative unit. That's not true. It wasn't until the release of the dreadful "Invisible Touch" album in the late '80s that Genesis ceased relevance. Happily, the three-disc Platinum Collection doesn't linger too long on the pop and white-R&B side of the band. That's dispensed with on disc one, which has two great songs -- the walloping "Paprelate" and the guilty pleasure "In Too Deep" -- and then busies itself for the remainder of the time with such embarrassments as "We Can't Dance" (clearly) and "Jesus He Knows Me." Disc two is all good, centering on the albums "Duke," "Abacab," "Wind and Wuthering" and "Trick of the Tail," strong albums, all. Disc three is the grand payoff -- tunes cherry-picked from the Gabriel period. In all, a strong three-disc collection, although a better idea than buying it would be to grab every Genesis album up through "Abacab." For the sake of completeness, you understand! Review: 3 stars (Jeff Miers)

> Blues

B.B. King & Friends, "80" (Geffen). The king of the blues turns 80 and throws a party for a dozen of his friends, recording it all for posterity. There is real glory here: "Early in the Morning" with Van Morrison, "Tired of Your Jive" with Billy Gibbons, "All Over Again" with Mark Knopfler, "Hummingbird" with a fluent John Mayer, a torrid "The Thrill Is Gone" with Eric Clapton. And, on balance, most of these collaborations live up to the standards King set for himself with his finest work. King the guitarist made a high art out of saying so much with so few notes, and when he is joined by longtime friend and touring mate Bobby Bland on "Funny How Time Slips Away," you hear his eloquence in all its unfettered glory. Review: 3 stars (J.M.)

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